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South Asia earthquake: trying to reunite families

09-06-2006 Feature

Restoring contact between family members separated by conflict or natural disaster is an important ICRC activity. ICRC delegate, Raza Hamdani, describes one such reunification of a Pakistani family.

Sixteen year old Sonia sits between her father, Mohammad Karim, and her brother, Abid, at the ICRC delegation in Islamabad. They have come to thank the ICRC for its help in finding Sonia in Karachi seven months after the October earthquake.

Sonia comes from Pattan Des village about 65 kilometres from Balakot and was staying with her uncle on October 8.

Minutes before the quake, she had gone to fetch water. Suddenly, the ground shook beneath her feet and she saw houses crumbling before her. She rushed back to her uncle's house only to find it destroyed. Looking on helplessly, she decided to make her way to her own home in Pattan Des.

" Looking at the scale of destruction, I was sure that I was alone and that none of my family members had survived. "  

While in Mansehra, she met a family on their way to Karachi.

" I finally decided to accompany the family to Karachi instead of being all alone, " Sonia said.

On the other side, her family started searching for her. " We went to dozens of camps and hospitals in Mansehra, Abbotabad, Islamabad, Peshawar and Lahore. Every time I entered a hospital, a chill passed through my spine lest I find her body, " Karim said with tears in his eyes.

Front page of the book carrying photographs and names of those reported missing.



A few weeks after she had arrived in Karachi, Sonia began to attend a madrasa where she tried to study, all the time thinking that her relatives had died in the earthquake.

In April, a team met her there, registered her and collected a Red Cross Message addressed to her relatives in Balakot. Unfortunately, the team who went to Balakot a few days later could not find Sonia's family.

However, at the beginning of May, neighbours told Karim that an ICRC tracing team had been looking for him because they had found a girl in Karachi.

" I did not know if she was my daughter but I immediately sent my son to Karachi to visit the madrasa and meet the girl. "

On reaching the madrasa, Abid was requested to bring his father. When Karim arrived he was allowed to speak to his daughter behind a curtain to be sure that the girl recognized him. On hearing his voice, Sonia rushed to embrace him. Happy and anxious to return home, Karim thanked the ICRC for its support in finding his daughter.

There are many more still searching for their loved ones. Along with the Pakistani Red Crescent, the ICRC continues its efforts to try to restore contact between separated family members and together they have now launched a book carrying photographs and names of those reported missing.